The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero
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The Irish-American story, with all its twists and triumphs, is told through the improbable life of one man. A dashing young orator during the Great Famine of the 1840s, in which a million of his Irish countrymen died, Thomas Francis Meagher led a failed uprising against British rule, for which he was banished to a Tasmanian prison colony. He escaped and six months later was heralded in the streets of New York — the revolutionary hero, back from the dead, at the dawn of the great Irish immigration to America.
followed Meagher out the door. Everything still inside the hall was yesterday. To save Ireland in its darkest hour would now fall to a handful of young men and women who knew more about sonnets than sidearms, who thought a few well-chosen words and a charge of peasants with farm tools could blunt an empire. 4 Pitchfork Paddies Winter was severe. Between slashing rains, snow swiped at the bare side of Ireland, five months of ashen chill. Peat smoke drifted from thatched hovels holding families
their pockets of our money,” said Charles Wood, the chancellor of the exchequer. The public voice of the opposition now fell to young Meagher. His writer friend John Mitchel matched him, with less eloquence and more bitterness, in the Nation. Duffy was out of a prison. He’d soon be back in, held for publishing Mitchel’s prose. And the middle-aged gentleman Smith O’Brien took the cause anew to the heart of Parliament. Meagher’s “Sword” speech was a turning point. It made him famous; copies were
father sat in a stuffed chair, trying to reason with him. Deep, wheezing sighs. A furrowed brow. Fear, and a hint of disgust. One year into his term as a member of Parliament, the elder Meagher was serving a government that was at war with his son. Out the window, the Suir in its summer sloth glided by, blue water to the sea. Smith O’Brien was in Limerick, trying to time an uprising by the Confederation clubs. Assorted members scrambled around the island on the same mission. One was sent to
eleventh-century round tower of the Vikings, said to be the oldest surviving building in Ireland. The town motto was Urbs Intacta—Unconquered City. But Waterford was the most conquered of cities, evident throughout the bundle of strong buildings, shoulder to shoulder along the quay. Every street and structure bore some scar of defeat. A cannonball was lodged inside that Viking tower, left over from Cromwell’s rampage of 1650. King Richard II had landed there in 1394, leading the largest armada
Meagher’s speeches continued to draw huge crowds—predominantly Irish on one occasion in New York, predominantly Jewish at another Manhattan venue. Even at the most convivial events he tried to keep alive the memory of the million who died in the Great Hunger. “There is a skeleton at this feast,” he said at a Friends of St. Patrick banquet. “Some few may not behold it. But to me the shroud and the sealed lips and the cold hands and the beautiful head are visible . . . It is a festival of memory.”